The Soil Association has said the £35 million poultry manure management plan for the preservation of the River Wye is “likely to lead to problems elsewhere”.

The River Wye Action Plan was announced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) last week, with the aim of enabling large poultry farms to export manure away from areas where they would otherwise cause excess pollution.

The £35 million in grant support is for on-farm poultry manure combustors in the Wye Special Area of Conservation catchment to facilitate the export of poultry litter.

Campaign advisor for the Soil Association, Cathy Cliff, said: “We welcome the belated emphasis on reducing pollution in the Wye.

“However, while measures to move manure to different parts of the country will help to reduce pollution in the Wye, the sheer volume of manure being shifted is likely to lead to problems elsewhere.

“The Defra announcement followed the Soil Association’s Stop Killing our Rivers campaign which also identified 10 further rivers in England and Wales at risk from intensive poultry pollution, as intensive poultry units holding millions of birds have been given permission to operate close to other river catchments around the UK. These rivers are already failing UK phosphate targets.”

River pollution

Cliff said that the most certain way to avoid river pollution would be to stop intensive poultry units from producing “such large volumes of manure in the first place”.

“This would also help to protect the fragile ecosystems that are being destroyed in order to produce huge amounts of soya to feed unnaturally fast-growing chickens living in terrible conditions inside these units.

“We’re really pleased to see the support being provided to local farmers to implement better nutrient management and to move away from inorganic fertilisers and implement sustainable practices like riparian buffer strips.

“This is the kind of support we need to enable farmers to transition to more sustainable, high welfare farming, not technological fixes like that proposed by Defra that lock farmers into this damaging system.”